If you’re over 50 years old, would enjoy a 500-day-long journey to a faraway land, and have a spouse who shares your sense of adventure, then billionaire space entrepreneur Dennis Tito has a mission for you – that is, if you don’t also mind risking your life and being exposed to high levels of radiation.
Tito’s Inspiration Mars Foundation is working on a goal to launch two astronauts on a flyby mission to Mars as early as 2018.
Here on Earth, the Chief Technology Officer for Inspiration Mars, Taber MacCallum, sat down with “Power Players” to outline why he believes the ambitious undertaking is important for the United States.
“When you talk about the science of how you support people for 500 days, people get really interested and inspired to go into the sciences, to go into technology fields, and that's what America needs,” MacCallum said. “We are not going to be competitive as a nation in a global economy unless we are the best scientists and the best technicians on the planet.”
There are several reasons, MacCallum explained, that a couple in the 50-plus age group is ideally suited for the mission.
“We need to properly represent humanity, so that's a man and a woman,” MacCallum said. “The crew also needs, for radiation reasons, to be older, in the mid-50s, and this better be a man and woman that have a lot of experience together so preferably married but...it's a really interesting message, though, in the end that it's really cool to be an older couple.”
Tito, who made news in 2001 for becoming the first person to travel to space as a tourist, proposed the Mars flyby mission as a purely private undertaking earlier this year. But he later turned to NASA for support upon discovering, as MacCallum said, that the mission “just can't be done in the way we hoped it could be done as a private venture.”
“You really need the NASA assets, the big rockets, the things that NASA's developing now that we're paying for as tax payers now to do this mission to fly by Mars,” MacCallum said.
Under the proposed partnership, MacCallum said, NASA would execute the mission and receive the philanthropic support of the Inspiration Mars Foundation.
“We need to increase NASA's budget by about 1 percent; that's about a billion dollars over four or five years, the whole length of the mission,” he said. “We think, philanthropically, we could raise several hundred million dollars.”
Tito went before a Congressional committee last month to make the case for teaming up with NASA. But, so far, the partnership seems unlikely.
NASA spokesman David Weaver recently said in a statement that “the agency is willing to share technical and programmatic expertise with Inspiration Mars, but is unable to commit to sharing expenses with them.”
“Inspiration Mars' proposed schedule is a significant challenge due to life support systems, space radiation response, habitats, and the human psychology of being in a small spacecraft for over 500 days,” Weaver said.
For more of the interview with MacCallum, including why he says he feels that it is his “civic duty” to work toward sending an American-led mission to Mars, check out this episode of “Power Players.”
ABC News’ Gina Sunseri, Betsy Klein, Gary Westphalen, Melissa Young and Gale Marcus contributed to this episode.